One of the most convenient ways to play Dungeons & Dragons (or any TTRPG) is online. The internet gives you access to a literal world of potential players and Dungeon Masters, not to mention game styles. There’s also the matter of safety, as some people might not feel comfortable playing in person or lack the ability to travel. That said, there is admittedly a learning curve to playing online. You may need to use a character sheet you’re not used to, figure out how macros work, and learn how to make tokens. To make it easy, we broke down the essential tools for playing D&D online.
While pencil-and-paper has been the tradition for keeping track of your character’s stats, online character sheets offer a convenient way to access your character from almost any device. They also auto-generate certain elements and tell you exactly what dice to roll.
This is the most popular online D&D character sheet, and the one many DMs will ask you to use. As D&D Beyond has an official partnership with D&D producer Wizards of the Coast, its layout is very similar to the paper character sheets you probably started out with. D&D Beyond also allows you to purchase digital versions of D&D books so that you can auto-create characters using the latest subclasses, feats, spells, and other options. The most helpful feature is that a DM can share their purchased content with members of a campaign.
With a free D&D Beyond account, you can create 6 characters using the most basic class and subclass options. DMs can share other options with you even if you have a free account. Or you can just manually enter whatever features you want to have as homebrew content (with DM approval of course!).
Character Sheet Apps
D&D Beyond and other PC-based sheets are preferred because DMs can access them to double check your work and better plan around your specific abilities. But if your DM is not picky, you could go with a character sheet app. A cursory search of the Apple App Store and Google Play store shows many different variants.
Fight Club 5th Edition is a great one that comes highly rated. Reroll is a more fun take that gives you a customized, pixelated sprite of your character. Many of these apps offer information in smaller bits, which might help you digest all of your character abilities more easily. But again, be sure to ask your DM if they’re okay with you using them.
VTTs - Where The Game Is Actually Played
Virtual Tabletops are just what the name says: a digital simulation of the table you’d usually play games on. DMs do the most work to show necessary images and gameplay elements on a VTT, but there are some things players will need to do. Typically, players will need to upload/create a character sheet in the VTT, make a token, and familiarize themselves with the VTT’s menus.
Many beginner groups get started with Roll20, as it’s the most hassle-free VTT for basic games. You can create a character sheet in Roll20 and even have it roll digital dice for you when you click on your skills, weapons, and spells. Or you can connect Roll20 to D&D Beyond using an extension called Beyond20. To top it off, you can also upload images that can be used to represent your character on Roll20’s gridded maps.
Roll20 offers free accounts, but upgraded tiers can be bought for more customized functionality, and you can buy official D&D adventure books that are pre-converted into the Roll20 format. If you intend to play out a long-term campaign in Roll20 or play with advanced groups, you may have to look into macros. These special commands can set up unique functions such as dice rolls with very specific modifiers. Macros can be complicated to get used to, but there are tutorials online.
Foundry is becoming a big name among experienced GMs of several TTRPG systems due to its customizability and user-friendly pricing. Roll20 has players use its servers, meaning a game might end prematurely if the company is having issues. Foundry offers a one-time purchase price where you own the software and can make your own servers. Since it puts the owner in control, Foundry will appeal to you if you’re a computer savvy person with lots of DM experience.
Much like Foundry, Fantasy Grounds is the domain of experienced players looking to create customized long-term campaigns. The menus of Fantasy Grounds can be intimidating to new players, but once learned provide a fantastic way to streamline online D&D combat. Like Roll20, Fantasy Grounds users can purchase official D&D content that gives you pre-loaded assets for certain hardcover adventures. The Fantasy Grounds community is very friendly, and holds frequent tutorial events to get new users onboard. Its interface might seem imposing at first, but after some customization and help from an expert, it will serve you well for many adventures to come.
If your goal is to get playing as quickly as possible, Owlbear Rodeo is the VTT for you. There’s no profile creation or purchase needed, just make up a password, share it with friends, and boom! You have an online tabletop. The interface is very straightforward–it lets you import basic map templates, plop character tokens on them, and roll dice–and that’s the point. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of importing your character sheet again or creating elaborate combat encounters, Owlbear Rodeo is how you hit the ground running.
When you’re playing online, you have to hear each other and maybe see each other. Chances are you’ve already used one of these chat platforms for work or school during the lockdowns. They’re just as good at keeping you connected during D&D.
The chat software of choice during 2020, whether you liked it or not. Using Zoom for D&D is the same as it is for work. Just create a room, send invites, and start talking. The DM can even have a little fun with themed Zoom backgrounds if video is used.
Many gamers prefer Discord to any other chat software, because it was made for games. Discord’s connection tends to be more stable and clear, so there won’t be any frustrating mid-game disconnects. It also lets you chat for as long as you’d like, unlike other services that impose length restrictions for free accounts. DMs will like Discord as it lets them stream video and audio, and they can even set up bots that play mood music for D&D sessions.
Cameras And Microphones
You’ve got your character ready to go, you already had Zoom downloaded, and you’ve chosen your VTT. The only thing left to do is make sure the other players can hear and maybe see you.
If you bought your laptop in the last decade, chances are it has a webcam and microphone built in. These are usually good enough for basic chatting.
Blue Snowball USB Mic
You may find yourself wanting a mic upgrade, especially if other players are constantly complaining about your voice quality. Blue Yeti makes fantastic microphones that plug into your computer’s USB port. The Snowball is the budget option, while the Yeti delivers podcast-quality sound without breaking the bank.
Razer Kiyo Webcam
The average online D&D game shouldn’t require video. After all, you’re usually looking at whatever map or photo the DM puts on the VTT. But maybe you’re the DM and you want the players to see you, or maybe you intend to stream your game. In that case, Razer offers a fantastic set of webcams built for streaming but perfect for general video quality. The Kiyo comes at an affordable entry price, and the Kiyo Pro gives you the video quality of a pro Twitch streamer.
Extras - Token Makers, Group Finders
The above is everything you need to start an online game. Below are two extras that help you show your character off in style and find a group of likeminded adventurers!
Every online game puts you in the shoes of a little digital avatar, and D&D is no exception. While you can run theatre of the mind combat over chat, the majority of games will have you navigate a map on VTT using what’s called a “token”. The easiest way to make a token of your character is Token Stamp by Roll Advantage. Just upload a picture, add a neat little border, and download the finished token. Then upload the token to your VTT or send it to your DM.
Now that you have all this knowledge on how to set up an online D&D game, you just need a group! If you’re lucky, you have friends who are willing to jump into adventure with you. If not, don’t fret. There are plenty of people out there who either can’t get a large enough party together or can’t find a reliable DM. That’s where sites like StartPlaying come in. You can use our search tool to find a one-shot that lets you try out new VTTs, or use our request function to ask a DM to run that campaign you’ve had your eye on.
Online D&D can sound complicated, but all you really need is a character sheet, a VTT, and the ability to talk on a call. If you need help learning the ropes, StartPlaying has plenty of beginner-friendly games going on at all times!